Every year a fruit tree generates lots of new branches which could all bear fruit in future years. However, in order to get the best yield and the biggest fruit the grower cuts most of them off, leaving a few selected branches to grow strongly.
In an analogy, a creative person will generate far more good ideas than they have time to develop properly. You should therefore intentionally select which ones you are going to work on and “prune out” the rest.
The crux of this analogy is to realise that many of the projects that you stop working on are perfectly viable, and would “bear fruit” if you continued working on them - but you should still abandon them, otherwise you will not have time to focus on your other projects.
I came across this analogy in “The Accidental Creative” book by Todd Henry, and you can hear him talking about it here.
Most of us have lots of half-built projects sitting around that we have not worked on for years. Often, someone else has since had the same idea and has already launched a finished product, in which case your version is an ideal candidate for pruning.
Sometimes these zombie projects have ongoing financial costs, such as domains that you registered in your initial enthusiasm for the idea, or equipment that you bought which is now sitting on a shelf. More serious is the cost to your attention of having so many “open loops” (incomplete tasks) competing for your mind. Make a conscious decision not to work on these ideas any more and invest 30 minutes to clear out all the debris.
What to Prune
Pruning doesn’t just apply to old projects, it applies equally to new ideas. In fact, pruning a new idea before you’ve done any work on it is ideal!
As a fruit-grower myself, I think we can add some more to this analogy by thinking about how to decide what to prune and what to keep. When you are pruning a tree, you start by removing any damaged, dead or diseased wood. Next you cut out any crossing branches that might rub against each other and cause damage, and open up space around each of the remaining branches. Finally, for many types of fruit, you cut back the latest growth on the remaining branches, to keep them compact and bushy rather than long and spindly. The same logic could be applied to your projects… or is that stretching the analogy too far?
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